NAPLES, Italy — “Welcome home,” Alberto Squillace said as he opened the door to the Omega glove factory.
“The factory is my home and the artisans that work for Omega are like brothers and sisters to me,” added Mr. Squillace, the chief executive of Omega, and the fifth generation to work in the family business. The company was founded in 1923 by Gennaro Squillace, in the Rione Sanità district, an area with roots stretching back to Greek and Roman times.
(Mr. Squillace regularly tells visitors, with pride, that Philip Roth’s book “American Pastoral” said no one is able to make gloves as well as “some small factory in Rione Sanità in Naples.”)
Naples was considered a capital of fashion and elegance during the 19th century reign of Ferdinand II of Bourbon. At the time, Mr. Squillace said, there were 41 glove factories in the city, employing 6,800 people — and the quality of their products brought acclaim in the luxury world, a fact that few modern Neapolitans know. But then, Mr. Squillace said, there are only about five or six glove manufacturers left in the city today.
In the 20th century, the production of gloves became automated and moved, in large part, to China and Southeast Asia. But at Omega, every pair continued to be made by seamstresses using sewing machines — even in the mid-1900s, when the company was making 100,000 pairs of gloves a year. “The only thing that unites us with an industrial glove are the five fingers,” Mr. Squillace said.
Today, Omega produces 30,000 pairs of gloves a year for men and women, made of lambskin, deer, reindeer and peccary leather, available in a range of colors and with different kinds of linings. There also are some designs with crocheted backs, and even fingerless styles. Prices range from 60 to 220 euros ($59 to $217), and the gloves are sold on the Omega website, as well as in stores in cities like New York, Paris and Seoul.
The company also takes what the fashion industry calls white label orders, producing gloves that then are sold with another brand’s labeling and packaging.
Omega obtains its hides from two tanneries, one in Naples and the other in Solofra, about 75 kilometers (about 46 miles) east of the city. The leather is always inspected in natural light before it is cut, so the best parts are identified. “In order to be a glove maker, you have to know the leather, understand it,” Mr. Squillace said while cutting a piece of red leather in front of a window.
“We still work with the unit of measurement known as the French inch, a numerical value that no longer exists since 1700,” Mr. Squillace said. “The French inch, equal to 2.7 centimeters, (slightly more than an inch) would be equivalent to one-twelfth of Charlemagne’s foot.
“Very few people know this,” he continued, “but the perfect glove size is obtained by measuring the circumference of the palm and dividing this by the French inch.”
Gloves have always been made using the same 25 steps, he said. And, the essential rule in glove making is that the glove must stretch in width, but never in length.
Omega has seven full-time employees and a large network of local seamstresses like Elena Petrone, 80, who has been sewing gloves since she was 15. Her workstation is sometimes the kitchen and other times the bedroom of her apartment in Capodimonte district of the city.
While many people think of gloves as just something to warm your hands during cold winter days, Mr. Squillace said, “Here at Omega, we consider gloves also a fashion accessory wearable during every season, and I’m very happy that even world of fashion and haute couture is rediscovering gloves.” He is now working with his sister, Martina, 33, who designs Omega’s couture collection, also handmade in Naples.
And his personal goal? “To preserve this tradition and form of art.”